I consider myself more of a spiritual person than a religious person. I didn’t grow up going to church, so it’s never been a regular part of my life. My mom, who is of a mostly Irish background, grew up Catholic. My dad is Armenian. I identify as half-Irish, half-Armenian, but I think I’ve always struggled with understanding just what that identity means.
My parents split up when I was pretty young, and we moved to Northern California with my mom and stepdad, spending extended summer vacations and every other holiday with my dad and stepmom in Southern California. In the tiny mountain town my sister and I grew up in, we were the only Armenians. And as for the Irish side, the only tradition we were exposed to was corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. When visiting my dad, we’d spend time with his family and enjoyed many of the traditional foods my grandmother made. But I’ve never really spent much time with other Armenians.
Last year, when Pumpkin and I had just moved here and Mr. G was still in Reno, we went to the Easter service at the Armenian Church. The service is mostly in Armenian, which I don’t speak, but I became choked up during the service. I didn’t quite know why at the time, but I think I do now. There’s something beautiful about participating in something that people in my family have been doing for thousands of years. It offers a connection to the past.
A few weeks ago, the church hosted what was billed as Armenian Identity Enhancement classes, so I attended hoping for an academic discussion on Armenian identity. My great grandparents came to the United States early in the 20th century from the Ottoman Empire. There is quite a bit of diversity among the Armenian diaspora, even here in the Valley – families from Iraq and Iran and Europe who’ve arrived here at various times for various reasons. I wanted to hear other people’s thoughts on what it means to be Armenian. The discussion was mostly centered on religion. It was nice to get a little bit of history of the Armenian Church, which is a huge part of Armenian history, but as the day went on, the discussion may as well have been taking place at any Christian church. It wasn’t what I was seeking.
On Easter, I again took Pumpkin to the Armenian service. Mr. G (who stayed home with the baby) asked why I wanted to go there instead of to the Catholic Church with his family, as we do on Christmas. I said I wanted Pumpkin to be exposed to this part of her identity. To hear the language and meet other Armenians. For these reasons, I’m glad we went. The service again made me emotional. But it felt like a club I didn’t belong to, like I was on the outside looking in. I hope, in time, to attend more events, to meet other Armenians, to develop more of a connection, and for my girls to feel that connection, too.